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The  Open  Source  Phenomenon  As  a  

Computer  Supported  Cooperative  Work  
Sharon  Brosnan  

C S C W   C S 4 5 5 8  

Open  Source  Software  

Open  Source  software  describes  a  software  licence  that  is  freely  available,  
modified  and  redistributed  with  few  restrictions.  The  community  that  it  is  
developed  by  tends  to  be  loosely  organized,  ad-­‐hoc  communities  consisting  of  
contributors  who  are  geographically  dispersed,  who  have  never  met  face-­‐to-­‐face  
and  yet  who  share  a  strong  sense  of  commitment  (Kim  2003).  Open  Source  
software  is  strongly  community  based  and  is  not  organized  by  one  organisation.    
The  software  can  be  redistributed  for  any  purpose;  any  person  can  study/modify  
the  code  and  copies  can  be  redistributed  or  improved.  Some  conditions  may  be  
applied  to  the  code  such  as  the  original  author(s)  is  given  credit.  Typically  most  
developers  of  the  software  are  users  of  the  software  and  have  to  fix  a  bug,  or  
want  to  improve  the  software  itself.  (Farr  et  al.  2008)  

Open  source  software  is  growing  and  it  is  thought  that  by  2011,  80%  of  all  
software  will  be  open  source.  (Farr  et  al.  2008)  

Computer  Supported  Cooperative  Work  

Computer  Supported  Collaborative  Work  (CSCW)  is  the  method  which  multiple  
users  work  together  using  computers.  It  is  done  using  various  systems  such  as  
blogs,  room  ware,  team  rooms,  forums,  Instant  Messaging  (IM),  etc.  CSCW  allows  
users  to  co-­‐ordinate;  collaborate  and  make  decisions  concerning  a  task  or  

Depending  on  the  context  of  a  systems  use  allows  for  the  use  of  the  CSCW  matrix.  
It  considers  work  contexts  on  whether  collaboration  is  co-­‐located  or  
geographically  distributed,  and  whether  individuals  collaborate  synchronously  
or  asynchronously.  

CSCW  within  Open  Source  Software  

The  system  I  am  interested  in  is  Open  Source  Software.  The  developers  are  
geographically  distributed  and  they  collaborate  asynchronously.  So  in  Open  
Source  Software  usage,  the  developers/users  communicate  and  co-­‐ordinate  
using  Wikis,  blogs  and  other  similar  software.  


Case  Studies  

Articulation  Of  Wikiwork:  Uncovering  Valued  Work  In  Wikipedia  Through  
(Kriplean  et  al.  2008)  

Articulation  of  Wikiwork  investigates  and  characterises  the  range  of  work  valued  
by  the  online  community  of  Wikipedia  contributors  through  the  use  of  barnstars.  
Barnstars  are  tokens,  which  were  created  for  the  purpose  of  allowing  individuals  
to  recognise  the  work  of  others  within  Wikipedia.  They  carry  high  value  to  
receivers,  as  they  are  indications  of  the  good  work  contributed  by  them.    
Experienced  editors  on  Wikipedia  give  the  majority  of  barnstars  to  other  valued  
editors  on  Wikipedia,  they  are  given  for  editing,  mailing  list  contributions  etc.  

The  authors  of  this  paper  collected  and  analysed  the  barnstars  from  the  
November  2006  English  Wikipedia  dump.  

The  barnstars  give  an  indication  of  the  most  work  done  and  the  most  
appreciated  work  done  within  Wikipedia  from  the  most  experienced  
contributors.  The  acknowledged  work  categories  which  people  received  
barnstars  for  (in  most  popular  order)  are:  
• Editing  Work  
• Social  and  Community  Support  Actions  
• Undifferentiated  Work  
• Border  Patrol  
• Administrative  Actions  
• Collaborative  Actions  and  Dispositions  
• Meta-­‐Content  Work  

CSCW  within  Wikipedia  

Task  Management  

The  contributors  of  Wikipedia  use  several  methods  to  work  together  
collaboratively.    Class/Instance  is  undertaken  to  articulate  work.  Template  and  
category  authoring  and  application,  bot  programming  and  execution,  and  policy  
authoring  and  enforcement  are  examples  of  this.  

Template  and  Category  

A  template  flags  a  work  that  needs  to  be  done  or  gives  an  explanation  as  to  why  
specific  work  was  done  (i.e.  why  a  person  was  blocked  from  the  site).  A  template  
organizes  work  to  be  done.  It  brings  in  List-­‐Based  work,  which  involves  going  to  
a  page  and  dealing  with  several  tasks,  often  in  alphabetical  order.  It  not  only  
organizes  the  content  of  the  page  but  also  the  work  to  be  done.  This  is  an  

example  of  different  time/different  place  coordination.  

Program  Bots  

Program  bots  were  created  to  ease  the  work  of  editors.  With  Program  Bots  
repetitive  tasks  can  be  completed  such  as  reversing  vandalism.  The  bot  can  be  
programmed  to  edit  the  work  automatically  or  an  editor  can  direct  it  there.  

Policy  Environment  

Within  Wikipedia  there  are  defined  acceptable  behaviour  guidelines.  These  

policies  can  be  created  or  modified  by  an  editor.  By  contributing  to  these  policies  
editors  help  articulate  to  work  that  other  editor  may  have  to  do  in  the  future.  The  
guidelines  are  often  cited  or  hyperlinked  during  the  editors’  discussions  on  talk  
pages.  This  often  happens  when  editors  are  struggling  on  how  to  proceed  with  a  
certain  issue.  This  citing  is  also  an  example  of  different  time/different  place  
CSCW  coordination.    


Coordination  Of  Free/Libre  Open  Source  Software  Development    

(Crowston  et  al.,  2005)  

The  paper  on  coordination  of  free/libre  Open  Source  software  (FLOSS)  
investigates  what  lessons  from  FLOSS  development  can  be  transferred  to  
mainstream  software  development.  

By  comparing  coordination  mechanisms  in  FLOSS  and  in  Proprietary  

Development,  through  the  Inductive  Case  Study  of  interaction  between  
developers  of  3  projects  the  authors  of  this  paper  give  us  an  insight  to  the  types  
of  CSCW  the  developers  use.  Mailing  lists  and  forums  are  studied  from  a  similar  
period  in  the  lifecycle  of  each  project.  

In  the  FLOSS  community  it  is  clear  that  the  developers  don’t  use  traditional  
project  coordination  and  that  an  archetypical  community  is  in  place.  A  small  core  
group  oversees  the  design  and  bulk  of  code  development,  and  developers  then  
contribute  to  bug  fixes,  new  features,  documentation  and  support.  

CSCW  within  FLOSS  

Common  Outputs  Management  

In  order  to  prevent  common  outputs  from  separate  tasks  a  method  has  to  be  in  
place.  To  avoid  duplicating  tasks  users  are  encouraged  to  search  bug  tracker  
database,  however  there  is  no  guarantee  of  correct  result  and  this  can  lead  to  
developers  working  on  same  part  of  code.  Although  the  method  is  not  perfect,  
this  coordination  mechanism  manages  the  dependency  of  two  tasks  that  have  
duplicate  outcomes.  

Usability  Dependency  Management  

The  usability  of  the  software  development  process  means  that  there  is  a  system  
in  place  to  ensure  that  the  output  of  a  task  is  usable  by  the  following  task.  In  this  
case  the  usability  is  the  flow  of  dependency  from  finding  a  bug,  to  fixing  one.  A  
user  finds  a  bug  and  reports  it.  The  users  may  not  know  what  info  is  sufficient  for  
bug  report,  so  developer  must  follow  up  with  the  user  for  more  information.  This  
was  done  via  e-­‐mail  or  a  message  on  the  forum.  This  is  an  example  of  different  
time/different  place  coordination.  

Task  Assignment  Management  

The  task  assignment  within  FLOSS  is  done  on  a  voluntary  basis.  Users  post  a  
description  of  task  in  the  forum,  and  if  a  developer  is  interested  he/she  submits  a  
bid.  Anyone  can  work  on  tasks;  developers  may  also  suggest  others  who  might  
be  best  suited  to  the  task.  


There  is  no  hierarchy  or  delegation  of  tasks.  The  main  methods  for  the  
destination  of  tasks  is  as  follows:  
• Self  Assignment  
• Ask  a  certain  person  
• Ask  an  unspecified  person  
• Ask  an  outsider  
• Suggest  consulting  with  others  

With  this  CSCW  method  applied  there  is  a  broad  participation  of  work  on  tasks.  
The  main  problem  with  this  type  of  work  is  that  multiple  developers  may  be  
working  on  same  parts  of  code  and  the  developer  may  be  unreliable  and  decide  
to  finish  tasks  according  to  their  own  time  and  interest.  


Within  these  papers  it  is  clear  how  Computer  Supported  Cooperative  Work  is  
necessary.  The  methods  used  by  each  case  are  specific  to  their  own  needs,  a  
forum,  mailing  list  or  list  based  system.  With  many  different  users  collaborating  
over  a  certain  structure,  the  users  of  Open  Source  software  create  and  modify  
their  own  systems  to  be  able  to  work  and  communicate  effectively  with  each  
other;  these  methods  are  necessary  to  the  Open  Source  community  so  the  
communication  and  coordination  of  working  in  a  different  time/different  place  
makes  sense  and  doesn’t  become  obscure.  

J.  Aaron  Farr  et  al.  (2008)  Making  Open  Source  Work  [online],  available:  /­‐open-­‐source-­‐work-­‐presentation  
Eugene  Eric  Kim.  (2003)  An  Introduction  to  Open  Source  Communities,  Blue  Oxen  
Associates  LLC  

Travis  Kriplean,  Ivan  Beschastnikh,  and  David  W.  McDonald.  (2008)  Articulation  
Of  Wikiwork:  Uncovering  Valued  Work  In  Wikipedia  Through  Barnstars,  San  
Diego,  California,  ACM  

Kevin  Crowston,  Kangning  Wei,  Qing  Li,  U.  Yeliz  Esweyel  and  James  Howison  
(2005)  Coordination  Of  Free/Libre  Open  Source  Software  Development,  Twenty-­‐
Sixth  International  Conference  on  Information  Systems